“I've been down this road before…”
For the past two-plus years, I’ve been listening to a lot
of John Prine. I was aware of him and his music for decades, but a certain convergence of consequences brought him to the forefront of my musical playlist. One – my friend and former Oswego State assistant coach Bill Carney shared his passion for John Prine with me; two – I learned how to navigate this thing called Spotify; three – I went to see John Prine perform at the Landmark Theater in Syracuse in June of 2019; and four – when Prine passed away in March of 2020, and COVID had quarantined me to my basement while my wife established her office space in the kitchen, I found solace listening to hour after hour of his musical genius.
According to the internet, “I remember everything” was the last original song recorded by Prine. And the other day, while I was taking refuge from the heat floating in the warm, warm waters of our backyard pool, I heard the song again.
“I remember everything; things I can’t forget”
And I got thinking…
I remember everything, too. Things I won’t forget. Lacrosse memories, mostly, and those are what I’m going to share with you this week.
Like learning to play lacrosse as a Lynbrook Titan, as part of our town’s youth lacrosse program. I wasn’t very good, and I wasn’t very big, so I spent a lot of time playing with a younger age group, which was probably a good move on someone’s part.
I remember my older brother Dave coming home from a high school practice (JV? Varsity?) and telling me that, in order to be any good at the game, I needed to hit the wall at our local elementary school and throw and catch 100 passes without dropping any. A 100 right-handed and 100 left-handed. I never did get that good. I remember making the junior high team as a ninth-grader and then playing JV as a sophomore. I was a starter and loved my coaches and teammates. I remember running hill-sprints at the end of varsity practices and having to re-start if Coach Seaman thought someone wasn’t working hard enough. I also remember getting yelled at and sharing playing time with another defenseman who was also in the doghouse as much as I was. We won Lynbrook’s first-ever County championship but then lost to Suffolk County champs Farmingdale, a team filled with Chanenchucks and Krumenackers.
I remember running the halls of Laker Hall when I got to Oswego State – and running campus, and Fallbrook, and stairs, and laps in the gym, and – well, you get the picture. I remember getting shut-out by Cortland in my freshman year and also beating Geneseo at their place in ’80.
I remember Dr. John Spring – who was my lacrosse coach at Oswego State, in addition to being swimming and diving coach and AD – asking me if I’d like to take over the lacrosse program the summer I graduated. I remember saying yes.
I remember my first coaching win – at Dowling in ’83 – and I remember the surprise celebration the team and coaching staff gave me at Geneseo in ’96 when I won my 100th game.
I remember nothing but laughs and good times from my friendship with teammate, housemate, and my first-ever assistant coach Jim Onacki… and my two years in that townhouse, with teammates Bob Kelley and Rich Beshlian, Onack, and Brian Marks, Dan Mellon, and Kevin Anderson.
I remember memorable games versus SUNYAC rivals Potsdam, Oneonta, Plattsburgh, Brockport, Geneseo, Cortland, and – briefly – Morrisville and SUNY Utica. And all the other non-league games – Naz, Alfred, Elmira, SJFC, RIT, Keuka, Union, SLU, RPI, Clarkson, etc. The wins and losses, the locker rooms, the buses and vans, and the restaurants and tailgates.
I remember looking forward to post-gaming home games at Oswego State’s Fallbrook Ski Lodge.
I remember coaching against the likes of Don Leet (SLU); Manfred von Schiller (Hamilton); Chip Hunter, Mike Branksi, Jim Lyons, and Rick Berkman (Potsdam); Mac Diange, Jeff McKee, Jeff Brown, Dan McKee, and Jim Lyons (Geneseo); Ray Rostan, Bill Tierney, Bill Glennon, Guy VanArsdale, Gene Peluso, and Jake Coon (RIT); Tom Diehl, Rob Didio, and Shane Lynch (LeMoyne); Rory Whipple, Matt Hogan, and Bill Bergan (Clarkson); Ed Van Tine (Buff State); Bart Governanti and Preston Chapman (Elmira); Al Brown, Matt Kerwick, Preston Chapman, and Jason Lochner (Alfred); Ray Rostan, Kevin Spencer, and Jeff Long (Ithaca); Scott Nelson and Rob Randall (Nazareth); Paul Rose (Morrisville); Bob Leary (SUNY Utica); Ed Purcell and Jason Paige (Keuka); Jeff Tipping, Rory Whipple, and Bill Bjorness (Hartwick); Jim Townsend (RPI); Peter Brown, George McCormack, Erv Chambliss, and Paul Wehrum (Union); and Erv Chambliss (U of Rochester).
And then there were the “can’t believe we played them” opponents: Washington College, St. Mary’s College of Maryland, Endicott, Nichols, Kean, Widener, Wesley, Goucher, Scranton, Mercyhurst, Stony Brook, Southampton, CW Post, St. John’s, Colgate, Albany, and B teams from Cornell and Syracuse.
Everyone who played a minute of the 1996 season at Oswego State will remember the Laker team that went 12-3. We beat ranked teams including Ithaca, Alfred, and RPI enroute to an ECAC championship, and our only three losses were to nationally-ranked teams – Washington College, Cortland (10-8), and national champion Nazareth (9-7). Two All-Americans, two North/South Game participants, a league title, a league Player of the Year, and a Top-20 ranking…
I remember overtime wins (Buff State, Clarkson, Geneseo, Potsdam, Plattsburgh, SJFC, RPI, Hamilton) and overtime losses (RIT, Naz, Clarkson, Oneonta, SUNY Maritime). Talk about your highs and lows.
Co-coaching the North team in 2002 at Homewood Field was something else I’ll always remember. In the weeks prior to the game, I had the task of calling the players and inviting them to play. Ethan and Craig Sleeman were twin defenders for Nazareth, and when I called, the conversation went something like this:
DW: “Hi, this is Coach Witmer from Oswego State and I’d like to invite you and your brother to play in the North/South Game this year.”
Craig (or maybe it was Ethan): “Great! We’ll be there!”
DW: “But I haven’t told you where or when the game is yet.”
C/ES: “Doesn’t matter, Coach – we’ll be there!”
Our North team prevailed, 17-16. My co-coach, Rick McCarthy, told me after the game that he had decided that I was the defensive coach, and that he was the offensive coach…
I remember almost everyone who ever played a spring season at Oswego State, but especially the captains. Some came to my wedding in ‘85. I went to see Jackson Browne at the Onondaga War Memorial with Ross Maniaci and Bruce Springsteen at SPAC with Tony Spinella.
I’ll always remember the captains that bought in to the proposal that the team shave its heads and raise money for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation. Today, going on 16 years later, our annual event has raised more than $850,000.
I remember my AD coming into my office in May of 2010 and telling me that the College was going to hire a full-time lacrosse coach that summer.
I’ll always remember receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award from the USILA in December of 2010.
I remember seeing my sons scoring their first and only collegiate goals for Brockport – Brian at Medaille and Eric at Cazenovia.
I remember writing my first Road Trip Dad blog in February of 2012.
I remember spending more than two years working for 3d Lacrosse, profiling top high school prospects. It might have been one of the best jobs I ever had.
I remember being talked into taking the head JV job at Oswego HS, and then moving up to the Varsity assistant two years later.
I remember being invited to work at the Lake Placid Lacrosse Camp, which led to my first year playing at the LP Summit Classic, which in turn led to my sons and me joining the staff a few years later. Funny how some things work out.
I remember giving a lacrosse clinic in Tasmania, watching box lacrosse in Nova Scotia, Montreal, Denver, the Onondaga Nation, and Prague; asked to be an assistant coach for the European club championships in Belgium. Watching the World Championships in London, Ontario; then volunteering at the Worlds in Denver, Colorado; Onondaga Nation and Syracuse; and Netanya, Israel. Watching practices at Cornell and Florida Southern. Attending Hall of Fame dinners at Cortland, Oswego, Rochester, Syracuse, and Baltimore.
Yeah… “I remember everything.”
What a road trip it’s been.
Thanks for reading! Please – drive carefully! Stay safe, stay smart, and stay kind.
- Dan Witmer
Dan Witmer is the author of three books. The Best of Road Trip Dad – The Laker Lacrosse Collection is an accumulation of 45 articles written for JustLacrosseUpstate between the years 2012 and 2018, about the history and traditions, the people, and the stories of the Oswego State men’s lacrosse program. The book is available on Amazon.com, and at the river’s end bookstore in Oswego, the SUNY Oswego College Store in the Marano Campus Center, The Sports Outfit on West Genesee Street in Fairmount, and Geared 2 Sports in Cortland. … and piles to go before I sleep – The Book of Wit is his memoir describing his 33 year career teaching HS English and coaching at Hannibal Central School. It is available on Amazon.com and at the river's end bookstore. His third book, The Best of RTD – A Lacrosse Coach’s Handbook, has just been released at Amazon.com. It contains more than 55 weekly Road Trip Dad blogs spanning 2012-2020, featuring Xs and Os, highs and lows, and even some Dos and Don'ts, and plenty of advice for coaches of all levels.